Why I’m Heading to the USA When My Friends Are All Leaving

I’ve been working with non-hierarchical groups since 2011: starting with the Occupy Movement, then meeting Enspiral, a social enterprise collective building technology for decentralised organising. My buddies and I started Loomio as a result of that meeting between Enspiral and Occupy. We build open source software that helps groups make inclusive decisions between meetings (loomio.org). We also open source our cooperative self-management system (loomio.coop) and our approach to digital facilitation (loomio.school).

While we’ve been busy with Loomio, I’ve been doing my best to ignore parliamentary politics. I felt much more empowered playing with technology and grassroots activism, rather than following the latest scandal or getting caught up in yet another hopeless election.

I felt more useful and more optimistic when I directed my attention towards the frontiers of democracy in far-flung corners of the world: from the astonishing swell of participatory governance in Taiwan, and the experiments with democratic confederalism in Kurdistan, to the ‘radical cities’ of Europe resisting the corporate takeover of municipal government.

I was feeling really good about my “parliamentary avoidance” strategy for a long time, but that confidence started to waver after the Brexit vote. A few months later, we had the US election, and now I’m convinced that it is time for me to change gears.

It’s been a few months since the election, but still I’m reeling, even all the way over here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

On the one hand I have friends saying, “ah it’s not such a big deal, just some of the muck has come out of the shadows and into the light.” On the other hand I hear people saying: “this what it looks like just before a fascist coup.” I’m sitting somewhere in the middle going “umm… what is going on here?”

It feels like something fundamental is up for grabs. There’s the threat of serious catastrophe, but then there’s this incredible groundswell of positive energy too. The pundits don’t know what’s happening: they were completely blindsided by Brexit, they were blindsided by Trump, and haven’t got any wiser since. When I go looking for meaning, I’m not getting much sense from either the left or the right: public discourse is dominated by memes and propaganda. I can’t make sense of it from here: I’m hungry for the direct experience.

Since November 8th, I’ve been feeling a call to visit the US, a call that is getting louder with every passing week. I want to connect with the massive mobilisation of newly activated citizens, and support them with technology and processes for inclusive organising.

So I’m hugely delighted to have the support of my colleagues at Loomio, who are sending me and my co-worker Nati to join our US-based team member MJ on a tour through the US from late March. We’re working with local partners across the country to host workshops to share the challenges and delights of non-hierarchical, inclusive, intersectional, collaborative, horizontal organising. You can get an impression of the workshop content from this brief report from a session I hosted in Seoul late last year.

We’ll continue to update this post on the Loomio blog as we finalise the event schedule. We’re landing at SFO on March 25th and plan to spend roughly April in the East Coast and May in the West, with a few days back in NYC at the start of June.

Help wanted

If you want to support this mission, there are a couple ways to help:

  • Introduce us to organisers who would really benefit from spending a few hours exploring more sustainable ways of working inclusively. We’re keen to meet with anyone interested in working non-hierarchically: whether they’re in cooperatives, startups, communities, collectives, NGOs or corporations.
  • It would be amazing to have a few people contribute to cover the travel expenses. We’re looking for individuals and institutions that can sponsor a community workshop. We are currently looking at dates in DC, NY, MA, IN, CA and OR — for about US$1000 we can add another stop to the tour. Please get in touch with me (rich@loomio.org) if you can help with sponsorship or you want to co-host an event with us.

Thanks, and see you soon!

Updates

I’ll be blogging on the road to share what we’re learning:

p.s. if you’re looking for more context about who this Richard D. Bartlett character is: check the video + articles on richdecibels.com 🙂